In the hustle and bustle of the modern world we see many changes. We often speak of the way things used to be and better days gone by. Even though we see the drastic changes in the world, and it is different for sure, we lose sight of the fact that much of it is the same as it has always been and the changes we see are only superficial. I can not speak for the rest of the world or even the rest of the country, but for those of us who call the rural south our home, we are living in a time capsule of sorts. We see the modern world around us and we have embraced it, while still maintaining the values of a bygone era. There is one little town in particular that possesses these qualities, that holds a place in my heart.
I was born in Kingstree, South Carolina in 1989. The same year that the town would feel the wrath of Hurricane Hugo. To most people, the town is just a speck on a map and driving through you might say it’s a little worn down and has seen its better days. Granted the buildings are old, some dilapidated, and there are some run down areas in the town for sure. But for those who live or work here, the hidden beauties that those passing through don’t see, are more than visible to us. It’s a town where generations of families have lived and left their mark, some more prominent than others, but nonetheless all a part of the history of this town. The Thames family for instance was never rich, never had a park named in their honor, but everywhere I go in this town they are known. This is due mostly in part to the fact that my grandfather, Kenneth Thames Sr., was once the most trusted and sought-after repairman for home appliances in the area.
He started his career many decades ago at Kingstree Home and Auto, working on appliances and automobiles. He ran his own business from his home for some years repairing washing machines, refrigerators, stoves, and all other manner of home appliances before becoming a maintenance man for the Williamsburg County School System. To this day, even though he is in his eighties, he can be seen riding around the town in his van, off to fix an air conditioning unit or walk in cooler at the local gas stations. Perhaps this day he might be on the way to repair an ice machine for either the town of county fire departments. The times have changed for sure, but his mission has not. His work is honest and I take pride in being associated with him.
His wife, my grandmother Carolyn Baylor Thames, is also well known around the town and surrounding areas for her work in the schools many years ago, her rowdiness at local ballgames, and from the many band competitions she accompanied her children on in the 80’s and 90’s. Her uncle owned the flea market on Highway 52 going towards Lake City, although he is gone from this world the flea market remains. My father, my uncles, and my aunt are also known by many in the town, having been a part of their life at some point in time, past or present. My maternal grandfather, Roger Walls, was the chief of police for the town in the 80’s and early 90’s. As a child my brother and I would accompany him to the station and find things to get in to. At that time town hall had no security guards, metal detectors, cameras, or magnetic locks on the hallway doors. The breakroom had vending machines which would lead us to begging him for a few quarters to get a pack of skittles or a drink. My brother and I would run up the stairs that lead to the upstairs storage area and go through the service doors out onto the roof of town hall and look out over the town while we enjoyed our snacks. Some today would say it was irresponsible or mischievous for us to be up there but it was a different time and we knew not to do foolish things that could endanger us because if we ever did get injured, we knew a swift lick with the belt would follow if we survived.
Now that the family history with the town is out of the way I will finally get to the point of this writing. Friendliness and neighborliness have been thought to be extinct in much of todays society but are in fact alive and well in here in Kingstree as it is in much of the small towns of the southeast. The roots of the citizens that call this place home, run deeper than the tap roots of the oldest and most majestic pines in the area. The first responders are your neighbors, much like in the days of old. The only difference now is the modern equipment that they use to serve and protect the citizens of town. The local police can be seen sitting across from the Sonic, waiting for an unlucky speeder, but catching violators of traffic laws isn’t the only thing these officers do. If you drive by that spot on a weekend night you will see a group of teenagers standing around the patrol car, talking to the officer about anything and everything, because even though the times have changed these local teens still respect the officers that visit their modern day version of the malt shop from back in the day. The local fire department behind town hall, of which I am a proud member, certainly sees its share of visitors day in and day out. Children come to look at the fire engines and the general public comes seeking answers to any fire related questions. When not on a call you can find the firefighters here in the office doing reports or sitting on a couch in the bay outside conversing with visitors or retirees that stop by. The equipment of the modern firefighter has certainly changed since your grandfathers day but the hospitality of the firehouse remains the same as it has always been. You are always welcome to come sit and chat, and there’s always a pot of coffee on the burner.
Some people think of reporters as a sort of celebrity. They watch the news on their televisions and think of how they wish they could meet them or give them their opinion on a story. Maybe they have an event they would like to have covered by the paper but it wasn’t large enough to be deemed worthy of their time? Mrs. Michaele Duke is that local celebrity for us. When she isn’t writing up the news she can be found attending local events, or seen dropping off a pot of stew at the fire station. Down to earth and never minding a good conversation she is the modern reporter with the old-fashioned feel. “The News- Kingstree” is both modern and old fashioned. They use social media to reach a broader audience but still print a local paper that you can actually pick up and read with your morning coffee. They cover everything from council meetings, to birthdays and obituaries. The delivery methods have changed somewhat in this modern age but the news and the down to earth reporter are still here.
In a town like this, its not just individuals simply living in the same area, it’s a family. We have our modern ways and although these modern things like social media sometimes divide us in opinion, we will still stand together at the end of the day and will aide each other in times of hardship just as we did in years gone by. People are what define a town after all. You may go into the local sporting goods store and find that the owners babysat you as a kid or you grew up with them or their kids. The atmosphere of family is not only present there but in many of the businesses in our little town. That’s because the people that own these businesses are your neighbors, friends, and family. The shops have been remodeled over the years and now we have speakers playing music on the street during the day through wireless signals, but the atmosphere never changed. Everywhere we look we see the change, but we never lose the feeling of home and family. Maybe its just our southern upbringing focused on morals, a life serving God, or maybe it’s the extremely fattening but delicious southern food that unites us.
I moved away from Kingstree some years ago and into another county. My new town doesn’t have a paper or a fire dept but it never did. We have our own Fourth of July celebration with a parade and fireworks display. The local mini mart still has a running tab for the locals and neighbors are always willing to help each other out. New Zion is nowhere near the size of Kingstree but it still has the same feeling of everyone being a part of one big family. Much like Kingstree and small towns all over the southeast, the people will always make the town, and in that way things never truly change.